How the N.B.A. Turned the 2015 All-Star Game Into a Neighborhood Event

For this year's annual celebration in New York, the league reached more fans than ever with new initiatives and plenty of hometown involvement.

By Michele Laufik February 27, 2015, 7:15 AM EST

Citywide promotion of the All-Star Game included billboards, building wraps, and dynamic signage, such as a subway takeover starring Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.

Photo: David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The 64th N.B.A. All-Star Game took place on February 15 at Madison Square Garden (the West won), but that was really only a small part of the hoopla. With hundreds of community events, fan experiences, and athletic activities throughout the city, along with player action at Barclays Center, the league was able to build a multi-borough cheering section before the game started.

“New York is used to hosting world-class sporting events, and with the help of the mayor’s office, the N.Y.P.D. and N.Y.F.D., and other key players, [the All-Star Game] was very integrated,” said Patrick Sullivan, the National Basketball Association’s vice president of content development and events. The citywide collaboration featured more than 11,100 installations, including billboards, building and subway wraps, and dynamic signage from the N.B.A. and its partners. Plus, special MetroCards with this year’s event motto, “New York Takes Center Court,” were distributed to straphangers. Sullivan estimated more than 10,000 vendors, production companies, and suppliers were involved, including a 250-member in-house event team.

Last year’s Super Bowl, which took place across the Hudson at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, offered the city an event-planning blueprint for this year’s All-Star Game festivities. “We worked with the N.B.A. to create a comprehensive and robust plan and executed it to the best of our abilities. These [plans] were similar to the plans we executed during Super Bowl XLVIII. Both of these events included the use of multiple venues and significant transportation needs over multiple jurisdictions,” said a city official.

As opposed to most major cities, with concentrated centers of entertainment and business, New York allowed the N.B.A. to create a “distinct neighborhood feel” with localized fan hubs and activations across the boroughs, Sullivan said.

And thanks to the home court advantage (the N.B.A. is based in New York), the league was able to set some high goals—and meet them—with lots of fan participation, community events, new initiatives, and a longer campaign period this year.

“As soon as the game was awarded to New York [in 2013], we began working with the Knicks, Nets, and the city to bring the N.B.A. to all five boroughs, starting at the beginning of the season,” Sullivan said. In September, the league organized a Staten Island court dedication attended by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, N.B.A. commissioner Adam Silver, and National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts to jump-start the season-long All-Star efforts.

With help from the city’s Department of Education, the league reached more than one million kids through its social responsibility program N.B.A. Cares. Basketball and fitness clinics were hosted in 100 schools (20 per borough) during the N.B.A. All-Star FIT Celebration on February 13. By the end of the campaign, the C.S.R. program had hosted more than 750 health- and fitness-related events across the city. “The word ‘epic’ has been used a lot,” said Sullivan, describing the in-house reaction to the All-Star accomplishments.

Along with the expanded community outreach, the league also tweaked its fan strategy, forgoing previous years’ large-scale Jam Session for the more intimate N.B.A. House. With two locations (the Skylight at Moynihan Station in Manhattan and the Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn), fans were able to participate in hands-on experiences and interact with current and former players. “It’s the difference between seeing your favorite band perform at a huge arena or in a small music club,” explained Sullivan.

In 2016, the All-Star Game heads north of the border to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It will be the first time the game is held outside the United States, and “there’s a heightened level of excitement,” Sullivan said, as Canada gains more prominence in the sport. Plus, a Canadian—James Naismith—invented basketball, so expect the league to play up that fun stat. As for Toronto's frigid temperatures, Sullivan has been advised to “save the hand warmers” from this year.

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